The Civil Rights movement was fraught with anger and violence. It divided our nation in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The decision to end the “separate but equal” doctrine, which was anything but, led to forced desegregation and changes many refused to accept.
In 1961 white and black activists known as Freedom Riders took Greyhound buses all along the southern interstate highways in order to integrate buses. They were greeted by mobs armed and ready to fight.
Furious with the new laws a few southern segregationists came up with a way to retaliate and tricked hundreds of Black Americans into moving up North. It was called the “reverse Freedom Riders.” One lady described the day she had been told she and her nine children would be welcomed into a better life.
After three days on a Greyhound bus, Lela Mae Williams was just an hour from her destination—Hyannis, Massachusetts—when she asked the bus driver to pull over. She needed to change into her finest clothes. She had been promised the Kennedy family would be waiting for her.
It was late on a Wednesday afternoon, nearly 60 years ago, when that Greyhound bus from Little Rock, Ark., pulled into Hyannis. It slowed to a stop near the summer home of President John F. Kennedy and his family. When the doors opened, Lela Mae and her nine youngest children stepped onto the pavement.
Reporters’ microphones pointed at her, their cameras trained on her family. The photographs in the next day’s newspaper show Lela Mae looking immaculate. In an elegant black dress, a triple string of pearls and a white hat, she was dressed to start a new life.
“She was going to have a job, and she was going to be able to support her family,” one of Lela Mae’s daughters, Betty Williams, remembered in a recent interview. Before coming north to Massachusetts, Lela Mae had been promised a good job, good housing and a presidential welcome.
But President Kennedy was not there to meet her. And there was no job or permanent housing waiting for her in Hyannis. Instead, Lela Mae and the others were unwitting pawns in a segregationist game.
That cruelty and willingness to use others has once again reared its ugly head.
The governors of Texas, Florida and our own state, Arizona, decided they have the right to lie to innocent immigrants and trek them across the country to be dumped at the doorstep of cities unprepared and unaware they are even coming.
That’s not what our country stood for when my great great grandfather came here at the turn of the 19th century to escape persecution because they were Jews. He then worked to bring in the next family member, who then joined forces to bring in the next. . .Until our entire family could live the American dream. It’s a story passed down as a reminder of what we owe our ancestors and this nation. “Chain migration” brought a huge portion of us here.
It’s always been that hope and beacon of freedom we’ve shined to the world that has drawn others, often at great risk to themselves, to our borders.
But these powerful Governors decided to use their states budgets, the people’s money, and ship immigrants to cities favorable to their plight, or dump them in front of the Vice President’s home to make a point. They offered money and claimed jobs, homes, support and opportunities awaited their arrival.
They did not notify the cities the immigrants were coming.
They notified Fox and had cameras waiting to film their confusion, anguish and heartache when learning it was a ruse. Nothing they had been told was real.
They are in this country legally.
They jumped through all the hoops necessary to stay.
And yet two powerful men felt they had the right to treat them shamelessly and potentially illegally. High jacking and deceiving innocent infants and adults.
One man from Venezuela said he walked through 10 different countries until he ended up in Texas. There a “refugee association put us on a plane to Boston where they told us we’d find work and housing. Then they sent us to a place called Martha’s Vineyard.”
But when they got to Martha’s Vineyard, instead of ignoring, shunning or turning their backs, the community came out in droves to welcome the lost and scared souls. Florida Governor DeSantis couldn’t appreciate Martha’s Vineyard magnificent blend of multinational cultures. Local high school students acted as translators and helped the people to assimilate and find places to stay before other arrangements could be made. The response was so overwhelming they had to turn away food and offers for boarders.
Immigration issues aren’t easy. Ensuring it’s done in an equitable, orderly, and safe manner takes effort, time and diligence. All states should participate. But we made a promise. One etched proudly on the Statue of Liberty,
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!“
It’s what makes our country unique and great. We weren’t looking for the wealthy, educated and well connected. We wanted a haven for all who needed a home. Differing perspectives, history and backgrounds both unite and strengthen us.
We have always depended on immigrants for our prosperity, growth, diversity, economy and work force.
This isn’t how we treat human beings.